This is the text of the sermon preached in Bradford Cathedral this morning (16 June 2013) by Sebastian Feydt, pastor of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, based on Luke 7:36-50.

Dear brothers and sisters, are we bound together by this biblical story? You as you are living here in Bradford and me who has come from Dresden?

Is Jesus talking to the Pharisees and the woman in a language which we all understand? If so, it must be the language of love. The language of peace. These languages we all understand.

And they connect us.

Because they reflect our longings: to be accepted and loved; to be able to take the next step in our lives freed from burden and guilt; to walk in peace. This longing for love and peace binds us together much more than many other things which were mentioned when Jesus, these men and the women met.

Self-righteous men who talk so much by themselves, who prejudge and judge so quickly other people – often women – still exist in today’s England or Germany as they existed in Jesus’ days.

That women are forced to sell their bodies in order to make a living – and that there are enough men who take advantage of it – this form of slavery goes back further than we can imagine. Prostitution is by no means the oldest business in the world, it is one of its oldest scourges. All recent efforts to make prostitution socially acceptable, to declare it a reasonable service in our modern society does not change the fact that love cannot be “made”, nor can it be bought. Wherever people try to, the language of love withers away. In the end it is muted.

Like the woman Jesus met: no sound passes her lips; she is out of words. Instead, her heart speaks. She pours it out by wetting Jesus’ feet with her tears.

I am touched by this thought.

This is not an everyday moment.

This is not a situation in which someone sheds a few tears out of anger. No, here we are confronted with an eruption of pain and despair and we find it hard to react in an appropriate manner. Just to put an arm around her shoulders to comfort her does not work – it didn’t work back then either. There is more going on than what could be healed by pity. This young woman is looking for a new life. She wants to be recognized as a person, to be addressed by her name and not to be reduced to her past.

This young woman at Jesus’ feet no longer wants to be mute and nameless. She wants to get up, straighten up, to finally start her true life.

Have you experienced such a moment in your lives as well? When it becomes obvious that life cannot go on the way it did any longer? Because the love there was between husband and wife or between partners had faded? Because the big dreams of a merry family did not come true? Because children left and loneliness moved in instead?

We all know times of crisis. We are no strangers to incurring guilt by ill-treating ourselves or others. It leaves us speechless, loveless, peaceless. And it raises our longing for being accepted and loved so that we can take the next step in our lives freed from burden and guilt.

And also to hear: Go and walk in peace.

By following her heart, the woman finds her way. She goes to where she knows she will be accepted: at the table at which she knows Jesus sits. There she gets on her knees. Humble she becomes. And she confesses her sins – to God. Without a word, but still comprehensively. In a way that has Jesus tell her: Your sins are forgiven.

If I want to confess the sins I committed in my life it’s not my mouth that needs to speak but my heart that has to bring it before God and the people. It takes a very special language to realize my guilt and the truth about me and my life and to bring it before God.

The woman speaks the language of love with her tears and her tender gestures. She experiences that she is being heeded and thus considered, accepted and thus admitted into society, acknowledged and thus appreciated. All that lies behind her is not going to build up anew in front of her. Neither she nor any of the other men can re-erect it. The way is clear. Jesus helped this woman to take that step.

This is what is meant by being freed: not FROM your past but WITH your past. I’m not free because I leave things behind but because I face them.

Thereupon Jesus grants the gift of forgiveness as the main precondition for reconciliation and for peace – Shalom. Goodness in our hearts and minds – and our lives. This nourishes the blessing

“Go and walk in peace!”

As Christians we can be peace messengers.

Does the world recognize us as such? As the ones who know how we can find peace?

- In ourselves.

- Together with others.

- Within society, between peoples?

Go and walk in peace!

What is it that connects us? It is the language of peace and light.

Let’s speak it! Here in Bradford. And in Dresden. In Afghanistan. In Mali. And when we ask what would do good to Syria …

Go and walk in peace.

Peace be with you!

…, well probably not on the righteous, but definitely on the big sinners in Hamburg.

Yesterday was too full to write anything in the evening. I did a two hour session on a stage with politicians discussing immigration, parallel societies and what makes a good society. I went from there to the Messe to do a Meissen discussion in the Markt der Möglichkeiten. Then it was straight back to the port to do another podium discussion on social media before heading back to the Messe to preach and lead a Caribbean Communion with the wonderful Judy Bailey.

Today was odd. I worked on Bradford stuff all morning. I had to get to the Stadtpark for noon to rehearse the Closing Service for telly tomorrow. I am preaching to a congregation of 100,000 and it is being transmitted live on German telly. I thought I had just over ten minutes, but when I did it it turned out to be sixteen. Also, I am held by the German text and need to look up more. And I need to get my German inflexion right. And intonation. That's all.

Anyway, we got it down to around 8-9 minutes and it will be easier to relax into it. I am also doing the opening greeting and the blessing at the end.

The sun has been blazing all day and Hamburg is beautiful. The sun shone despite me being late for the rehearsal (blame the trains… or my failure to work out how long it would take me to get there). It shone despite my over-long sermon. It shone despite my poor delivery and worry about how to edit the text (which a good friend did with me – Professor Corinna Dahlgrün – managing to be both deliberate and kind).

So, now I have done the editing and am about to head off to the Anglican Chaplaincy to preside at the Meissen Service. Then… tomorrow… sunshine… a huge congregation… a shorter, better sermon. I hope. (If not, I will leave the country!)

 

During an address to nearly 500 people a couple of weeks ago I spoke about curiosity as a key to the Kingdom of God. What I meant by this is that Christian discipleship (it seems to me) has to be driven by curiosity about Jesus and where he might be leading us. There are lots of reasons why I think this, but they are not the point of this post.

As an example of this I used the challenge of writing and presenting scripts on the radio, making particular reference to the stuff I have done on BBC Radio 2 for more than a decade and now, particularly, on the Chris Evans Show. Before giving this address (which is why this example came to mind during it) someone asked how you find something useful to say in the ‘fluff of the programme’. So, when I referred to it I described it something like this:

You have to grab the attention of the potential listeners ( so they don’t go to the loo or put the kettle on), tease their imagination with story or image, say something, then give a pay off back into the ‘fluff’.

You get around 320 words to do it with.

The further challenge is that you have no idea if or how Chris will pick up on what you have said or the basic theme. Of course, there is no reason why he should pick up on it at all. But, the great thing about doing his show is that Chris is bright, interested, creative and excellent at engaging. When writing a script, you have to be conscious of stimulating the curiosity or imagination of the host and his team as well as the audience. It means speaking a language that is interesting and comprehensible to this diverse range of humanity.

And that’s why it is good to do. It is also excellent discipline for people like me who can talk for England, preach for hours, and range wildly from subject to subject.

It is also why I like Twitter and text messaging. These force you to be concise, to express an idea with very few words, to communicate effectively in brief. It demands the skill that is exemplified by comedian Milton Jones in his wonderful new book of ‘10 Second Sermons‘.

In a former life I used to encourage preachers to write a radio script of 400 words. I remember one person complaining that you can’t actually say something in such a short space. I responded that if you can’t say something in brief, you don’t know what you are trying to say… and you shouldn’t dare to say it for 20-30 minutes. I still think that.

The enjoyable thing about doing the stuff with Chris Evans is that he will often respond in ways you didn’t expect. Always interesting, sometimes challenging, never boring. And always a privilege not to be taken for granted.

Now I’m off to a communications conference…

I am in Dresden for a Meissen Delegation Visit with the Archbishop of York until Sunday. I am the Anglican Co-chair of the Meissen Commission which handles relations between the EKD and the Church of England since 1991.

Apart from the hard work on theological and practical issues, we have also had some fun. This evening we attended a brilliant organ concert at the incomparable Frauenkirche – the church the Allies destroyed during WW2 and in which I delivered a Bible Study during the Kirchentag last May.

I am not a great fan of organ music, but this exposition of JS Bach’s Die Kunst Der Fuge (14 fugues and 4 Canons) played to a packed house by the Frauenkirchenorganist Samuel Kummer was just brilliant. Organists must be the best musicians there are – they have to use so many fingers and toes – and this performance was mesmerising.

It made me think about the importance of ‘live’ music. Like with preaching, it is the event itself that defines the performance and content. Recorded music is wonderful, but the live event is by definition unrepeatable, utterly unique, of the moment. It is risky – anything could happen and anything could go wrong, especially in something so long and complex as the Bachzyklus XVIII.

Why were there hundreds of people in the church, many of them young and including a number of children? What on earth brings such a cross-section of humanity to a church to listen to an organ that is so high up that you cannot see the organist anyway? Why bother to turn out on a cold night to listen to something you could hear on a CD in the warmth and comfort of your own lounge – and probably for the same price?

The answer is probably complex. But, the combination of architecture, ambience, the shared experience, the live nature of the event, the atmosphere and the sheer artistry all combine to draw people to experience something unique and uniquely beautiful. You just can’t imitate in your living room the volume and nature of a major organ played in a vast and beautiful space.

It is a pity that the ‘event’ is so easily traded for a lesser, more accessible experience. I wonder if the experience of ‘live’ music is something that every child should be exposed to early on – something that should be commended and recommended to anyone wanting to know they are alive. And I wonder if people like me – those who preach, debate, communicate in a variety of media and contexts – need to make the ‘event’ so unique, so unmissable, so unrepeatable that curiosity and the need to discover one’s pulse will draw people to it?

Musings in Dresden after a long day.

Tomorrow we continue the business as we go to Meissen itself to begin celebrating 20 years of the Meissen Agreement. We end back at the Frauenkirche in Dresden on Sunday before the long journey back home.

Martin Luther probably wasn’t the funniest man to be around and he is not the sort of ex-monk you’d think of as a dancer. But, maybe we have got our impressions wrong.

I was waiting for a friend by the Marktkirche, bang in the centre of Hannover, when I had a good look at the statue of Luther outside the church. From the front he looks like he is preaching. From either side he looks like he is doing Scottish country dancing. Look at the photos below:

See what I mean? Now, this got me to wondering what preaching and dancing have in common. I didn’t get very far. But I did begin to think that preaching is a waste of time if no communication is actually happening. And if communication is happening, then there is a dance of ideas, of emotion, of thinking and reflection going on – not just a statement of (what the preacher thinks are) ‘truths’.

Good preaching ought to be engaging and dialectic – just like a dance where either (a) the dancers are dependent on and relate to each other, or (b) the dancer engages the audience in a movement of ideas, emotion or thought.

After staring for a while at Luther’s statue I went with friends to the Lange Nacht der Kirchen (the Long Night of the Churches). Every church in Hannover was open – many until the early hours – and they put on a programme of amazingly lively and creative events.

We began in the Marktkirche with an amazing organ recital, a brief lecture about the 15th century reredos (the thing behind the altar) and then a dance. I dreaded this – thinking it might be a liturgical embarrassment. It turned out to be a professional male dancer who did stuff suspended from two white sheets which were themselves suspended from the high ceiling of the church. It was beautiful, arresting, moving and dead scary: I was terrified he would fall and the long night of the churches would become the long drop of the dancer.

We went from there to another church where there was a mix of hip-hop and some Japanese-influenced dancing (don’t ask – I didn’t really understand it). Then to another church where the local Bundesliga football team (Hannover 69) were involved in interviews interspersed with excellent classical guitar. Ouside there was beer and sausages. Then the evening continued with a superb band (with a great trumpeter).

This was the church opening itself to joyful and celebrating culture, being unembarrassed about the place of religion in popular culture, running a menu of creative events that were simply a gift of the churches to allcomers.

I’m a terrible dancer. But even I wanted to dance. It began with Luther by the Marktkirche and I won’t be able to see him or read him again without thinking of him in a kilt.

Well, not me, actually. I am quite happy and enjoying a rare day off.

I’m even not unhappy about Damian Thompson’s silly spoof on his Telegraph blog about bishops and nuns – although I did respond to one enquirer (as to whether I would respond) with : “I’m too busy climbing every mountain…”. Mind you, I also added my own question: “What does Damian Thompson want to do when he grows up?” I thought his spoof quite amusing (despite the fact that I don’t think I have seen Sister Act), but was rather shocked to see how many people clearly think what he said was true. What price credulity? Soon the story will be reported across the world as if it were true.

Anyway, back to the real business. I don’t get to hear much preaching, so it matters to me that what I do get to hear is good and gets my mind working as well as my spirit inspired or challenged. Last night I was hugely encouraged. I attended the tenth anniversary Choral Evensong of the Southwark Cathedral Girls Choir. Apart from the glorious music and wonderful congregation, the sermon was superb. It won’t be quite the same written down, but it was rivetting, funny, moving, inspiring and challenging.

Canon Lucy Winkett, soon to move from St Paul’s Cathedral, preached – the first time I have heard her. Perhaps the more important fact is that the young people there appeared to give full attention to her, too. It was a model of communication and excellent preaching. The Morrisey lyric (the title of this post) was one that summed up Lucy’s feelings on her cycling pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela:

Music is itself a language of the human spirit and as such teaches us about God.

Music  expresses the “otherness” of God.  It is somehow over us, beyond our analysis or understanding,  calling us out of where and who we are.

Music is also immanent; that is expressing truths about this world as well as the next.  The creation of music almost always involves a patron, an agreement; The heavenly language of music is that of gift and grace, but it is created in the worldly context of contract and exchange.  Sacred music sung in a sacred space – invites us to claim liturgy as a de-tox against the sickness of consumerism, a unique activity of the believing community that cultivates wisdom, rehearses justice and gives us a foretaste of heaven.

This brought to my mind the Leonard Cohen poem I blogged on some time ago, Thing. Human beings are made to sing, made for music. No wonder the Psalms are full of songs about the whole of human experience: lament, complaint, questioning, love, praise, wonder, etc.

Lucy’s sermon deserves a wide read. But it is half-naked without the person and the voice and the silence and the moment.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,173 other followers